A UNESCO programme specialist discusses Green Academies, the benefit of online events, and more on SDG6

The Source
By: Guest contributor, Tue Jun 1 2021

Author: Guest contributor

In honor of World Environment Day (June 5th) we've invited a few field specialists to share their thoughts with us on the nature of their work and their commitment to addressing the SDGs. These experts ‘translate science into on-ground realities’ that can support policymaking and nurture the grass-root community collaboration. We asked how they address issues directly related to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 – Clean Water and Sanitation. Here we're sharing thoughts from Dr. Benno Böer, Natural Sciences Programme Specialist at UNESCO. Check out our new SDG6 hub for selected research content and more discussions around clean and safe water and sanitation.

Tell us about your work and your involvement in SDGs

I work for UNESCO, a specialized UN agency. All of the work is one way or another linked to peace and the well-being of people. I used to do original research work a long time ago, focusing on the inter-action between nature conservation and sustainable human living. Currently, I am catalyzing projects, activities, and initiatives on the same subject: anthropogenic impacts on ecosystems and how to manage them best. The short- and long-term goals of my work is identifying, finding, and developing existing and innovative solutions that foster a new coalition between people and nature. Keep the human-life-support-system intact.

What does public engagement look like in your field? What initiative UNESCO take in this area?

The first UNESCO Green Academy was inaugurated in 2016 in Ethiopia. In UNESCO Green Academies, students experience practical action and learn how they can contribute to improving their own living conditions. The intersectoral initiative touches on biodiversity, climate, water and capacity augmentation via science-education. The Green Academies are simply arranged with a mix of puzzle pieces that, when put together logically, will provide climate resilience. The initiative benefits from a multiplier effect by providing training and communicating knowledge from schools to communities, so that large numbers of people will learn and apply their new skills. We encourage all schools to modify their buildings and premises as Green Academies.

Green Academies foster active youth participation to achieve a sustainable lifestyle in their schools feeding back into their communities. Students will be empowered to identify their specific needs, focusing on four pillars: Water security, Clean energy, Biomass production and Waste management. Students, together with their teachers, will develop and implement their own ‘Sustainability Plan’.

As for SDG 6, the UNESCO Green Academies contribute to have more water available via collecting rain-water from school roofs and storing them in large tanks. In addition, grey-water will be treated in a decentralized fashion, inside the school gardens, using reed-bed technology. Toilets will be placed on high grounds, so that gravity-energy can be used to transport the black-water to the biogas-digester, located at a low point of the school premises. All or some of these very simple and affordable modules should be applied in all schools. This way, real impact with public participation will be achieved, for better water availability, and better hygiene and sanitation.

How, if at all, has your work shifted given the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic? What are the trends you’ve noticed?

My work has completely changed; I have very much shifted to online events and established an online-science-platform https://quest4action.org/ . Online work, however, has to be balanced – events have to be few rather than many, short, rather than long, and exciting with educational and entertaining elements in it. This has brought very good results: we have much larger audiences of people participating our very colorful events; instead of travel funds we can use funds for getting scientists involved in the work; instead of polluting the air by too much travel, we keep travel strictly to non-air-travel whenever possible, and online meetings to avoid international travel. We will keep that method and refine it further when Covid-19 restrictions become less pronounced.

Should the funding of research be more strongly tied to demonstrable societal impact? Why? 

Yes, it should, because we have problems and these problems need to be solved. And still a lot of research funding is made available to projects that have not much to do with improving the situation. Take biodiversity: funding should go to something clearly linked to protect nature either in situ or ex situ. Take climate: funding should go into carbon capture, including by protecting and restoring forests and blue carbon ecosystems. Take air pollution: funding should go into reducing air pollution in cities, projects that reduce emissions. Funding should be made available for action-projects.

In my personal opinion, it would be laudable if Governments would improve the way they are prioritizing issues, and investing national budgets. Recognizing that climate change and environmental degradation are realities, would it not be wise to arrange for a better balance between large military and construction budgets when compared with meagre education, science, green economy, and environmental budgets ? Better balancing budgets would be helpful to achieve the SDGs. Why do we not identify better the most pressing societal issues, and systematically mobilize universities and research agencies to find solutions, including giving young researchers jobs and income.

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About the author

Dr. Benno Böer holds a B.Sc. and an M.Sc. degree in Biology from the University of Osnabrück, and a Ph.D. degree in Physical Geography from the University of Paderborn.

Dr. Böer has worked in several positions in the area of ecology and anthropogenic impacts on ecosystems, in Germany, Ethiopia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, and the UAE, including 20 years with UNESCO. He currently serves as the Natural Sciences Programme Specialist at UNESCO Bangkok.

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Dr. Böer has published and co-edited many books and journal articles in the field of science-based environmental management.  


Author: Guest contributor

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